Tyson Foods invests in a lab-grown meat startup

Meat giant Tyson Foods (NYSE:TSN) is betting big on meat that comes from a lab instead of a slaughterhouse.

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The company’s venture capital arm announced it has invested in a Silicon Valley startup, Memphis Meats, a company that makes lab-grown meat using animal cells. The investment, which was not disclosed, follows a slew of other high-profile backers including Cargill Inc., Bill Gates and Richard Branson.

Last December, Tyson made a similar investment in another meatless startup called Beyond Meat, investing a roughly 5% stake in the company that produces plant-based meat alternatives.

Tyson CEO Tom Hayes told FOX Business in March of last year that he sees plant-based protein as a big part of the company’s future.

“If you take a look at the FAO (Food and Agriculture Organization) stats, protein consumption is growing around the world—and it continues to grow. It’s not just hot in the U.S.; it’s hot everywhere, people want protein, so whether it’s animal-based protein or plant-based protein, they have an appetite for it. Plant-based protein is growing almost, at this point, a little faster than animal-based, so I think the migration may continue in that direction,” Hayes told FOX Business.

Memphis Meats, which debuted its first animal-free meatball in 2016, followed by the world’s first chicken strip in 2017, said customers should expect to see these products on store shelves by 2021 or 2022.

Uma Valeti, co-founder of Memphis Meats, told FOX Business last May that the company “essentially takes a number of animals cells, giving them clean and nutritious food, and watches them grow into a muscle” to create the meat.

“We harvest that muscle and then cook it,” Valeti said, adding that “the whole process from start to finish takes about four to six weeks, depending on the texture” of meat.

The problem, however, with lab-grown meat is that the production costs are high, around $6,000 per pound of meat. Tyson’s new investment will likely help the startup bring down costs as they continue to strive to bring the product to market.

Hayes, who took the helm last year, said he is focused on Tyson’s new purpose, which is to “raise expectations for the good big food can do.”

“Big food is often seen as potentially bad, and in order for us to feed … 9 billion [people] we have to get in the game and say how do we come up with solutions and innovations,” Hayes said.